Last Sunday, Favre threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns, statistics most NFL quarterbacks and fantasy owners would be proud of. The season is humming along quite nicely. There is no cause for concern. Packer faithful can continue to don their number 4 jerseys and bow three times daily toward the Don Hutson Center in solemn reverence and thankfulness. Then why have my fingernails been hewn to their cuticles by anxious incisors? Why have I ingested more calcium carbonate than an osteoporosis patient? What malice could haunt my nights this way? What villainy could torment my days so?
Favre no longer steps into his throws. He has lost touch with one of the most basic fundamentals of throwing the football. If you check the Forward Pass Manual, right there on page 3, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, it reads in bold type: Step toward the target. Next to it is a diagram of Jim Thorpe, left foot extended, throwing what looks like a medicine ball toward an unenthusiastic receiver. The remainder of the chapter contains testimonials from Norm Van Brocklin, Johnny Unitas, and Dan Marino.
Stepping toward the target enables better accuracy and, due to the transfer of weight from the back foot to the front foot, more velocity on the throw. Every Pop Warner coach in America teaches his would-be signal callers this rule on the first day of practice (after getting them to stop playing with dirt clods). Brett Favre has probably heard this basic tenet hundreds of times. Yet, this year, he rarely plants his right foot and steps forward with his left when throwing a pass. More often than not, Favre throws while backpedaling. He does not only do it when he is about to be hit, astutely throwing the ball away to avoid the negative yardage that comes with a sack. When merely pressured, Favre throws off his back foot. Favre will even do it when the pocket is secure, particularly on slant and fade routes. Against the Vikings on Sunday, Favre failed to plant his right foot and step toward his intended receiver on at least 30 of his 43 throws. Favre backpedals in the rain. He does it on a train. It is so common for Favre to backpedal, the GOP leadership is sending its officials to watch Favre for tips on how to respond to questions from the Sierra Club.
All this backpedaling has an effect on Favre's accuracy and velocity. On Sunday, against the league's worst defense, Favre threw three interceptions and was fortunate to have two other potential takeaways dropped. More importantly, the throws resulting in the interceptions were plainly inaccurate and lacked velocity. On the first of two thrown to Minnesota linebacker Greg Biekert, who has never been mistaken for Ray Lewis, Favre was actually stepping sideways to the right while trying to throw down the middle of the field to Terry Glenn. The ball never got close to Glenn, instead floating to Biekert five yards in front and to the right of him. On Viking rookie Larry Brewer's first career interception, Favre was attempting to throw a sideline route to Javon Walker. Favre threw flat-footed, and the ball fell well short of Walker. Had the ball been higher and further up the field, the 6-foot 2 Walker likely would have had a play on it. As it was, Walker was not even close enough to the ball to prevent the takeaway. On the final interception, Favre rushed a throw from his back foot towards a slanting Donald Driver, who did not have a defender within four yards. The throw was low and well behind Driver, who made a very athletic play to get a hand on it. He was only able to deflect the ball, however, and it landed right in Biekert's arms. All three passes were possible completions transformed into turnovers by inaccurate throws.
Favre's disdain for one of the game's most inviolable precepts did not begin with the Minnesota game. It has been occurring all season. Only, until now, Favre largely got away with it. His exceptional arm strength allows him to make strong throws without stepping forward properly, as his 85-yard bomb to Donald Driver at Chicago earlier this season attests. In addition, Favre is terrific at throwing on the run, a fact illustrated by his rollout touchdown passes to Bubba Franks. Unfortunately, the success Favre has enjoyed with off-balance throws may have stoked a belief that he performs equally well without taking the extra nanosecond to step into a throw. It is similar to the plight of a young tennis phenom who runs around his backhand in order to hit his powerful forehand. This works in the city and perhaps even the state tournaments, but eventually the phenom comes up against a class of competition that can return his forehand more often than not. Since the phenom was not accustomed to using his backhand against quality competition, he loses.
Favre's desire to throw while moving backwards may also be motivated by a desire to avoid hits from defensive players. Favre takes tremendous pride in his reputation as an iron man and his consecutive starts streak. After seeing so many fellow quarterbacks, including physical specimens like Dante Culpepper and Donovan McNabb miss significant time with injuries in the last two years, he may be trying to protect himself. He knows that no quarterback is immune from injury, and that injuries occur more often than not as a result of contact with defensive players. Thus, Favre may be simply trying to avoid hits from the defense. A review of game tape this season reveals that Favre occasionally even ducks his head down as he throws, as if avoiding a shot to the head from a potential rusher.
The point of this article is not to say that Favre should never throw on the run, or off of his back foot. The ability to throw accurately and with velocity from unorthodox positions is a huge advantage for a quarterback, since there are situations which dictate such off-balance throws. Favre is a master at improvising a completion out of a busted play, and no one should discourage him from doing that when the designed play breaks down. It is that when the play is not disrupted that Favre should adhere more to the fundamentals. As well as he throws now, he would throw even better using the proper technique. At times, he need s to stand tall in the pocket and take a hit to ensure that his pass goes where it si supposed to go, with velocity.
There. At the risk of being deported from the Packer Nation, I said it. I feel the pressure in my temples ease, my pulse returning to a steady rhythm. I am at peace. I can eat spicy foods again. The bigger problem is, how does one tell a living NFL legend who has completed 3,530 passes for 41,167 yards and 306 touchdowns while leading his team to two Super Bowls and one Vince Lombardi Trophy "You're doing it wrong". Yet, that is exactly what Packer Quarterbacks Coach Darrell Bevell must do. And preferably before Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch renew Favre's acquaintance this Sunday.